Three-dimensional Numerical Modeling of the Summit Lake Lava Flow, Yellowstone

Volcanic eruptions belong to the extreme events that change the Earth’s landscape and affect global climate and environment. Although special attention is given to super-eruptions, the non-explosive rhyolitic (highly viscous) eruptions and large lava flows are no less important. In the paper “3D Numerical Modeling of the Summit Lake Lava Flow, Yellowstone, USA”, published in Izvestiya, Physics of the Solid Earth (Q2; JIF: 0.796), an ancient lava flow in the Summit Lake region, Yellowstone is analyzed. The research conducted by scientists of IEPT RAS, IMM UB RAS, and the Lomonosov Moscow State University was supported by the Russian Science Foundation (project No. 19-17-00027).

The Yellowstone Caldera is the largest volcanic system in North America and has been called a “supervolcano” since it was formed as a result of a catastrophic eruption about 630,000 years ago. If another major eruption occurs in Yellowstone, its effects will be felt around the world as ash fallouts and short-term (from several years to decades) changes in the global climate. According to the US Geological Survey, the states of Montana, Idaho and Wyoming, which are located closest to Yellowstone, will be affected by pyroclastic flows. Fortunately, the probability of such an eruption on Yellowstone in the next few thousand years is extremely small. However, not only such rare extreme events, and also lava flows in the same region are dangerous. The last volcanic activity on Yellowstone consisted of rhyolite lava flows that erupted about 70,000 years ago.

Lava flow morphology at different lava viscosities

Three-dimensional numerical models of lava flow have been developed to study the influence of the surface topography and the lava viscosity on the advancement and the duration of the flow. Numerical results of the dynamics of the lava flow propagation have shown a good agreement with the known lava distribution under the assumption that the average angle of inclination of the surface topography slightly differed from the present value, presumably due to the pressure change in the magma chamber during the eruption and the corresponding changes in the surface topography. With the increase in lava viscosity, the flow slows down and its thickness increases, leading to a change in the lava flow morphology (see figure).

Source: Tsepelev I.A., Ismail-Zadeh A.T., Melnik O.E. 3D Numerical Modeling of the Summit Lake Lava Flow, Yellowstone, USA // Izvestiya, Physics of the Solid Earth. 2021. V. 57. N 2. P. 257–265. DOI: 10.1134/S1069351321020129